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What is DevOps? Even the Thought Leaders Can’t Agree!

What is DevOps?

At our recent DevOps State of the Union in Santa Clara, one of the key topics that we wanted to discuss was “What is DevOps?” We wanted to come up with a great definition. With some of the rockstars of DevOps in the room and great analysts / media too, we thought that it was a reasonable goal to get to definition that we all could agree upon. Our fearless moderator, Gene Kim, instigated the discussion with a definition of DevOps. Immediately the folks from Netflix chimed in that under that definition, Netflix doesn’t practice DevOps! The crux of the issue for the Netflix folks was that their engineering / development group also does operations, so they don’t have “separate” teams.

OK, well, back to the drawing board! So, we played around with the concept that it’s not really about hand-offs between teams, but more about the customer. There was a lot of discussion around who the customer really is – whether it is internal or external. Some folks postulated that internal customers don’t matter, and that only advancements for paying customers is what matters. Then we hit this issue of how do you create a definition of DevOps that is not too far away from the folks doing the work, but is still meaningful to the whole organization. We even talked a bit about how the name “Dev” “Ops” may be causing confusion!

I threw out my definition that I believed that DevOps really was just the increased probability that an organization is going to find product / market fit with their solution. Or said another way, is it just more shots on goal? The challenge with this definition for some was that it wasn’t concrete enough for business folks at enterprises to hold on to. How would senior leaders at big enterprises understand the benefit of DevOps under this definition?

What did we agree upon?

My sense is that the group agreed at a foundational layer on a few key points:

  • There has to be a tangible business benefit articulated with the definition of DevOps – it’s clear that DevOps is making its way into larger enterprises and folks there need real things to hang on to. They need use cases, case studies, real world results that can back up the claims that DevOps is going to be transformational.
  • An organization’s business drivers are going to change the definition of DevOps. For some organizations it may not be the core of their existence. With somebody like Netflix, where getting their product to the customer relies on great infrastructure and software, they may very well have a different definition.

Overall, it was an interesting discussion with a lot of great perspectives. What do you think? Do you have a definition of DevOps that works? How do you incorporate in the business side with the technical piece of it?

Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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